Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Steve Carell .Evan Baxter
Morgan Freeman ..God
Lauren Graham .Joan Baxter
Johnny Simmons .Dylan Baxter
Graham Phillips Jordan Baxter
Jimmy Bennett .Ryan Baxter
John Goodman .Congressman Long
The nature of God and things of that ilk are generally not topics touched upon by Hollywood film-makers for many reasons. Trying to fit one’s perception of the nature of the Almighty, for those who are believers in things of that nature, is something pretty difficult to make into something cinematic for obvious reasons. Trying to discuss the nature of faith, goodness in humanity, et al, are rather high-brow concept generally left to philosophers and theologians to discuss as opposed to trying to make them accessible via film. So it’s interesting to note how Tom Shadyac views all of this in his Almighty series, with the always dependable Morgan Freeman as the Lord himself.
In the first film, the Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty, God gives a man omnipotence to show him the nature of fate, chance, and the grand cosmic plan of it all. There were certain scenes and moments that had some real intelligence in an otherwise low-brow comedy. While the film wasn’t all that impressive either in the comedy aspect, it was telling how Shadyac does the little things in showing what he thinks is perhaps the nature of God. Years later, the film has transitioned to a new star and a further expounding upon Shadyac’s theology of God in Evan Almighty.
Carell, who played plucky anchor Evan Baxter in the first film, returns in the title role as God (once again played by Freeman) has a mission for him. Evan, a newly elected Congressman, has been charged with building an ark because a great flood is coming. Given plenty of wood, tools, and a convenient “Idiot’s Guide to Ark-Building,” Evan is charged with building an ark the size of Noah’s in anticipation of a great event. And while it doesn’t work as a comedy on too many levels, much like it’s predecessor sadly, Evan Almighty is fascinating on a number of levels because of its ability to use theology and the nature of the divine as part of its backbone.
Shadyac is either a man of some faith, or good at faking it at least, in terms of how he sets up many events critical to the film’s story. It’s wonderfully set up, as the script may not be steeped in comedy but does have a strong religious bone in it, as Shadyac’s notion of God isn’t someone there to play a “Santa Claus” type of role. It’s a nuanced look, and there are plenty of moments that stand out because of it. In particular there is a scene where God and Evan’s wife Joan (Lauren Graham) in which they discuss the nature of faith in a peculiar way.
Joan is concerned about her husband’s sanity, as building an ark and the other things he does (such as growing his hair and beard long and wearing a robe) seems insane as well as the usual skepticism met when someone says that God commanded them to do something. God responds by noting that he’s only there to provide the opportunity for someone to better themselves by putting them into the position to be able to do so, in this case developing a situation for a family on the edge to come together in a stronger emotional way. It doesn’t hurt that Freeman is his usual high quality self throughout the proceedings, as perhaps he might be the only actor with enough grace to be able portray the Almighty on film, but what he says and does are stooped in solid theology. Shadyac has a strong idea of what he wants to do with the human-God interaction, as well as the greater implications of it, and does it in a graceful and classy way. The scene could’ve been a throwaway, clichÃ©d moment meant to move the plot but it’s remarkably sweet in its own right.
And it’s a shame, really, as the film really isn’t all that funny. It has a good story, after all, and the film is a crowd pleaser but the problem is that the jokes that aren’t funny are the ones emphasized and the ones that are have to be found by the more astute viewer. Carell is a gifted comedian, but being constantly the target of slapstick humor isn’t his strong point. Certain moments when he’s allowed to do some of his more common types of shtick work wonderfully, but they’re ruined by him getting hit in the head, groin or other areas with large objects. There’s simply too much of it, as it seems that the idea that “more is better” is pushed to its logical end point and nearly three quarters of the film has the film’s star being the brunt of an obscene amount of mostly unfunny physical humor.
Carell does a good job in the role, as Evan is a strong character he really works wonders with, but this isn’t a film that maximizes his talents. It marginalizes them for the most part, leaving him in a high profile film without the sort of high profile role he excels in. In the end of things this is what dooms the film, as it plays more towards someone like Jim Carrey than it does with Carell. His strong suit is vocal, not physical, humor and the script seems to have remained a Carrey vehicle with some plot points changed to make it around a different character than a true Steve Carell vehicle.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):